Towards a more balanced territorial development

EESC opinion: Towards a more balanced territorial development

In several Eastern and Southern EU countries there is a steady flow of young people leaving their hometowns to find work in distant cities. This is a worrisome trend. An ever-increasing global food demand will require in the near future that all agricultural surfaces be cultivated. Temporarily setting aside a field is one thing; letting decay the surrounding infrastructure (often built over decades) that makes possible sustainable, profitable farming is something very different. To abandon large production areas (or to leave them up for grabs to foreign, corporate investors) is a luxury that the EU cannot afford.

The concentration of economic activity in urban areas is not sustainable in the long term. On the one hand, it puts a considerable stress on natural resources (air, water, soil) at the risk of impairing the quality of life of city dwellers.

In order to attach young workers to their rural territories, or to bring them back if they are already gone, the availability of good job opportunities is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. Education and health services, ICT links, even cultural activities have to reach a minimum level that makes living in these places not only acceptable but indeed attractive. Since almost all EU policies are affected, a transversal, across-the-board approach is required that includes this territorial dimension as a permanent sustainability concern in every policy planning.